Jermaine Kearse will play in the biggest game of his career Sunday.
The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver caught a touchdown pass in the NFC Championship game to help send the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they will face the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey at 3:30 p.m.
But to those who have known Kearse since middle school, the Super Bowl contender is still the same humble military brat they grew up with on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
That guy doesnt change, said Justin Garagan, a former child and youth program assistant at JBLMs North Fort Youth Center. Hes not Hollywood at all. He still loves Lakewood.
Garagan and Shon Smith, a CYSS program assistant, grew up playing sports with Kearse on base at the youth center and at school.
Garagan and Smith went to Lakes High School where Kearse became a standout prep player with 903 yards receiving.
Even in high school you could tell he was going to make it, Garagan said. Hes a good teammate, but then you play against him. Its not good to be on the opposite team.
Both Garagan and Smith knew it was just a matter of time before Kearse was on the big stage. Little did they know it would be just two years after he graduated from the University of Washington.
Hes been doing it since high school, so weve been seeing it all along, Smith said. He was destined to be that way.
Garagan and Smith still keep up with Kearse, and Kearse still stays connected to his roots.
The receiver visited JBLM twice last year for two youth sporting events. Garagan arranged for Kearse to speak at the fifth annual Little March Madness basketball event at the NFYC during his rookie season, where he spoke about the importance of education.
It was nice to come back and give back and try to shed some light on the kids, Kearse told the Northwest Guardian last year.
Kearse returned in the summer as the Seahawks Gatorade Junior Training Camps guest player.
Soon after Kearse was at Seahawks training camp for his second season, where he climbed the ranks of the receiving corps. Kearse went on to make 22 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. In the postseason he caught 3 passes for 69 yards and possibly the biggest touchdown of his young career in the NFC Championship.
Smith plans to watch the Super Bowl in Seattle, where he hopes to celebrate after a home team win. Garagan, who now works for CYSS in Japan, wishes he could watch from his home state. Instead he will be up early Monday morning to watch the action live.